The following quotations are from:
Pierre Clastres, “War in Primitive Societies,” from Archeology of Violence
“If the material life of primitive societies develops against a background of abundance, the Domestic Mode of Production is also characterized by an ideal of autarky: each community aspires to produce all that is necessary for its members’ subsistence. In other words, the primitive economy tends toward the community’s withdrawal into itself, and the ideal of economic autarky conceals another: the ideal of political independence. In deciding to depend only on itself for its consumer production, the primitive community (village, band, etc.) has no need for economic relations with neighboring groups. It is not need that gives rise to international relations in the primitive society, which is perfectly capable of satisfying all its needs without having to solicit the assistance of others: we produce all that we need (food and tools), we are therefore in a position to do without others. In other words, the autarkic ideal is an anti-commercial ideal. Like all ideals, it is not always accomplished everywhere: but should circumstances demand it, the Savages can boast of doing without others.” 253
“The community is thus more than the sum of its groups, and this establishes it as a political unity. The political unity of the community is inscribed in the spatial unity of the habitat: the people who belong to the same community live together in the same place.” 257
“The primitive community is thus a local group.” 257
“The locality of the local group is thus its territory, as a natural reserve of material resources, certainly, but especially as an exclusive space for the exercise of community rights. The exclusivity in the use of the territory implies a movement of exclusion, and here the properly political dimension of primitive society as a community including its essential relationship to the territory clearly appears: the existence of the Other is immediately posited in the act that excludes him; it is against the other communities that each society asserts its exclusive right to a determined territory; the political relationship with neighboring groups is immediately established. A relationship that institutes itself in the political order and not in the economical order, let us recall: the domestic mode of production being what it is, no local group has any need, in principle, to encroach upon neighbors’ territory for provisions.
Control of the territory allows the community to realize its autarkic ideal by guaranteeing it self-sufficiency in resources: thus, it does not depend on anyone; it is independent. One would assume, all things being equal for all local groups, a general absence of violence: it could only arise in rare cases of territorial violation; it would only be defensive, and thus never produce itself, each group relying on its own territory which it has no reason to leave. Now, as we know, war is widespread and very often offensive. Territorial defense, thus, is not the cause of war; the relationship between war and society has yet to be illuminated.” 258
“Primitive society has always been considered a place of absolute difference in relation to western society, a strange and unthinkable space of absence—absence of all that constitutes the observers; socio-cultural universe: a world without hierarchy, people who obey no one, a society indifferent to the possession of wealth, chiefs who do not command, cultures without morals for they are unaware of sin, classless societies, societies without a State, etc. In short, what the writings of ancient travelers or modern scholars constantly cry out and yet never manage to say is that primitive society is, in its being, undivided.” 258-259
“Primitive society is a single totality in that the principle of its unity is not exterior to it: it does not allow any configuration of One to detach itself from the social body in order to represent it, in order to embody it as unity. This is why the criterion of non-division is fundamentally political: if the savage chief is powerless, it is because society does not accept power separated from its being, division established between those who command and those who obey. And this is also why, in primitive society, it is the chief who is commissioned to speak in the name of society: in his discourse, the chief never expresses the flights of his individual desire or the statement of his private law, but only the sociological desire that society remain undivided, and the text of Law that no one has established, for it has nothing to do with human decision. The legislators are also the founders of society—the mythical ancestors, the cultural heroes, the gods. It is of this Law that the chief is spokesperson: the substance of his discourse always refers to the ancestral Law that no one can transgress, for it is the very being of society: to violate the Law would be to alter the social body, to introduce into it the innovation and change that it absolutely rejects.
Primitive society is a community that assures control of its territory in the name of the Law guaranteeing its non-division. The territorial dimension already includes the political in that it excludes the Other. It is precisely the Other as minor—the neighboring groups—who reflect back onto the community the image of its unity and totality. Faced with neighboring communities or bands, a particular community or band posits itself and thinks of itself as absolute difference, as irreducible freedom, as a body possessing the will to maintain its being as a single totality. Here then is how primitive society concretely appears: a multiplicity of separate communities, each watching over the integrity of its territory, a series of neo-monads each of which, in the face of the others, asserts its difference. Each community, in that it is undivided, can think of itself as a We. This We in turn thinks of itself as a totality in the equal relationship that it maintains with the equivalent We’s that constitute other villages, tribes, bands, etc. The primitive community can posit itself as a totality because it institutes itself as a unity: it is a whole, because it is an undivided We.” 260-262
“An examination of ethnographic facts reveals the properly political dimension of warlike activity. It is related neither to a zoological specificity of humanity, nor to the vital competition of communities, nor, finally, to a constant movement of exchange toward the suppression of violence. War is linked to primitive society as such (and so it is universal there); it is its mode of operation. It is the very nature of this society that determines the existence and meaning of war, which, as we have seen, because of the extreme specificity displayed by each group, is present ahead of time as a possibility in the primitive social being. For all local groups, all Others are Foreigners: the figure of the Foreigner confirms, for every given group, the conviction of its identity as an autonomous We. That is, the state of war is permanent, since with foreigners there can only be hostile relations, whether actually implemented in a real war or not. It is not the limited reality of armed conflict or combat that is essential, but the permanence of its possibility, the permanent state of war that maintains all communities in their respective difference. What is permanent, structural, is the state of war with Foreigners which sometimes culminates, in rather regular intervals, rather frequently depending on the society, in actual battle, in direct confrontation: the Foreigner is thus the Enemy, which engenders in turn the figure of the Ally. The state of war is permanent, but the Savages do not necessarily spend their time waging war.
War, as external policy of primitive society, relates to its internal policy, to what one might call the intransigent conservatism of this society, expressed in the incessant reference to the traditional system of norms, to the ancestral Law which must always be respected, which cannot be altered. What is primitive society seeking to conserve with its conservatism? It is seeking to conserve its very being: it wants to preserve its being. But what is this being? It is an undivided being; the social body is homogeneous; the community is a We. Primitive conservatism thus seeks to prevent innovation in society; it wants the respect of the Law to assure the maintenance of non-division; it seeks to prevent the appearance of division in society. This is primitive society’s internal policy, as much on the economic level (the impossibility of accumulating wealth) as on the level of power relations (the chief is there not to command): to conserve itself as an undivided We, as a single totality.
But we see clearly that the will to persevere in its undivided being equally animates all We’s, all communities: each position of the Self implies opposition and hostility to others: the state of war will last as long as each primitive community can assert its autonomy in relation to the others. If one proves itself incapable of this, it will be destroyed by the others. The capacity to implement structural relations of hostility (dissuasion) and the capacity to resist effectively the enterprises of other (to fend off an attack), in short, the warlike capacity of each community, is the condition of its autonomy. In other words: the permanent state of war and actual war periodically appear as the principle means used by primitive society to prevent social change. The permanence of primitive society has to do with the permanence of the state of war; the application of internal policy (to maintain the undivided and autonomous We intact) has to do with the implementation of external policy (to form alliances in order to wage war): war is at the very heart of the primitive social being, war constitutes the very motor of social life. In order to think of themselves as a We, the community must be both undivided (one) and independent (totality): internal non-division and external opposition are combined; each is a condition for the other. Should war cease, the heart of primitive society will cease to beat. War is its foundation, the very life of its being, it is its goal: primitive society is society for war, it is, by definition, warlike…
The dispersion of local groups, which is primitive society’s most immediately perceptible trait, is thus not the cause of war, but its effect, its specific goal. What is the function of primitive war? To assure the permanence of the dispersion, the parceling, the atomization of the groups. Primitive war is the work of a centrifugal logic, a logic of separation, which is expressed from time to time in armed conflict. War serves to maintain each community’s political independence. As long as there is war, there is autonomy; this is why war cannot cease, why it must not cease, why it is permanent. War is the privileged mode of existence of primitive society, made up of equal, free and independent sociopolitical units: if enemies did not exist, they would have to be invented.
Thus, the logic of primitive society is a centrifugal logic, a logic of the multipole. The Savages want the multiplication of the multiple. Now what is the major effect of the development of centrifugal force? It faces an insurmountable barrier, the most powerful sociological obstacle to the opposite force, centripetal force, the logic of unification, the logic of One: the more dispersion there is, the less unification there is. We see henceforth that the same rigorous logic determines both the internal policy and external policy of primitive society. On the one hand, the community wants to persevere in its undivided being and prevent a unifying authority—the figure of the commanding chief—from separating itself from the social body and introducing social division between Master and Subjects. The community, on the other hand, wants to preserve in its autonomous being, that is, remain under the sign of its own Law: it thus refuses all logic that would lead it to submit to an exeterior law; it is opposed to the exteriority of the unifying Law. Now, what is the legal power that embraces all differences in order to suppress them, that exists precisely to abolish the logic of the multiple and to substitute it with the opposite logic of unification? What is the other name of this One that primitive society by definition refuses? It is the State.
Let us go back. What is the State? It is the sign of division in society, in that it is a separate organ of political power: society is henceforth divided into those who exercise power and those who submit to it. Society is no longer an undivided We, a single totality, but a fragmented body, a heterogeneous social being. Social division and the emergence of the State are the death of primitive society. So that the community might assert its difference, it has to be undivided; its will to be a totality exclusive of others rests on the refusal of social division: in order to think of themselves as We exclusive of Others, the We must be a homogeneous social body. External segmentation, internal non-division are two faces of a single reality, two aspects of the same sociological functioning and of the same social logic.” 272-275